Inspect apples for sapsucker signs


Yellow-bellied sapsucker

In spite of a chill still in the air most days now, spring marches on according to schedule. Birds returning from the tropics may be quite uncomfortable in low temperatures. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers and flickers join resident woodpeckers in woods and gardens. If you have any apple trees, you can always find a clue that sapsuckers have been visiting you even if you have not seen them. The horizontal holes they make around trees are so straight it is as if they have been put there with a man-made precision tool.

Sapsuckers are members of the woodpecker tribe, and they drill these recognizable holes in order to get sap to drink and to get the soft sapwood to eat rather than to get insect larvae. Other birds such as nuthatches, titmice and hummingbirds also come to drink at these holes oozing with sap.

Pecan growers in the south do not like sapsuckers, for they consider them a pest. In our northern states, these attractive woodpeckers are not a problem and are very beautiful and interesting birds to see in the yard. The bird has a black-and-white streaked face and a red patch on his forehead. The male also has a red chin.

Sapsuckers are apt to be noisy in their courtship, especially if they drum on a tin roof. You will find this sapsucker breeding from Newfoundland west to Alaska, south to California and New Mexico, and in the east in New Hampshire and upland Virginia. In the winter, they move to the south of our country and into Central American and the West Indies. Check now for their interesting holes in local apple trees.

Many reports of flickers have come my way. This woodpecker is a summer resident. It is recognized by the white patch of feathers on the bird’s lower back and the red patch on the nape or back of the neck and a black bib or necklace. The male also has a black line off the base of the bill; the female does not. Flickers spend a lot of their time on the ground hunting for ants, their favorite food. They are pleasant birds to have living near you in many ways.

Starlings give flickers a difficult time when it comes to nesting sites, as they both like tree cavities. Often, flickers will drill diligently for days while making a nest hole in some suitable tree, and just when they are ready to move in, a pair of starlings will chase them away and take over the new nesting hole. When this happens enough times, the flickers don’t nest that year. Starlings, birds introduced from Europe, have had a disastrous effect on our native flickers. Flickers normally have one large brood a year, and both parents share the task of hatching the eggs and the care of the young.

Kingfishers should be sitting on their favorite perches now. I’ve had a few reports of sightings on this island. They return to their favorite sites year after year. Phoebes tend to come back to the same place where they were hatched, and parent birds often use the same ledge, spot over a door or hidden location near your house. Almost “like clockwork,” as the old saying goes, phoebes will arrive and settle on their favorite perch near your house and tell you they are back with that familiar phoebe call. They often pick the same nesting site year after year.

Buffleheads and long-tailed ducks soon should leave this area for their more northern breeding grounds. Buffleheads nest much farther north, and interestingly enough for a duck, they nest very high up in a hollow tree, maybe even 50 feet up in the air! They have been doing their courtship in our local waters, having started courting in January, and are now ready to leave for their nesting grounds on wooded lakes and rivers and on some coastal waters much farther north. If you like watching our local birds, I urge you to get a copy of the little pamphlet at the park office called “Birds of Acadia National Park.” It is very helpful in figuring out what bird to expect throughout the year. Their arrivals and departures are clearly marked.

A call came in to me one day from a neighbor telling me about a grey squirrel he had in his yard that moved about on its two front legs. He called later to say he had successfully gotten a video of the squirrel doing just that. Animals are great at adapting to injuries. The urge to survive and succeed is certainly strong in both humans and wild creatures. This particular squirrel was quite skillful in getting away from predators and can move at high speed in the trees.

As you drive about on and off island, watch for returning kestrels sitting on the posts or roadside wires. This small falcon is a beautiful bird and usually quite visible as it perches on a wire near the road and watches for rodents or large insects on the ground. This hawk is the prettiest of the falcons. For years, it was called a “sparrow hawk,” which really was a misnomer, for it only occasionally takes anything with feathers on it. Its preferred foods include mice, spiders and grasshoppers. The colors on this small falcon are many, including slate-blue wings, red-brown back and tail, yellow legs, and a buff, black and white head pattern. You must look up a photo of this bird. It really is a small beauty. Incidentally, all female hawks are slightly larger than the males. If you watch them for awhile, listen for their high-pitched “killy-killy-killy” call as they fly off.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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